A Stormy Week, in More Ways than One

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Last week proved to be quite trying for museums here in LA and even further north. While the Getty and MOCA have had their share of unpleasantries in dealing with the coming and going of their directors, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art & Science literally went belly-up, becoming the victim of a royal miscalculation by its trustees. A few years ago, they embarked on an ill-timed $28-million rehabilitation of the museum building, which - surprise, surprise - ran significantly over budget. As a result, this 25 year-old museum, one of the largest arts institutions in the Central Valley, laid off its staff, closed its doors, and put its art collection up for sale. It's easy to blame the museum's collapse on the global economic downturn, but the ineptitude of its board of trustees should be a case study for other museums hoping to avoid a similar disaster.

at100119a.jpgIn spite of all these calamities, last week delivered its share of good news. The Fowler Museum at UCLA provided a much-needed, old-fashioned good time with its unveiling of the traveling exhibition of work by Chicago-based artist Nick Cave (not to be confused with the musician of the same name). The title of his exhibition, Meet Me at the Center of the Earth, is as titillating as his sculptures, which he calls "Soundsuits." Worn by dancers, his sculptures -- part haute couture, part African ceremonial costume -- make noise during the performance. You need to see it to believe it. Here is a partial list of materials used by Nick Cave for these costumes/sculptures: yarn, beads, sequins, bottle caps, vintage toys, rusted iron sticks, twigs, leaves, and hair. If you are not seduced by the joyful whirl of totemic voodoo carnival energy of these costumes, you're only half alive.

at100119b.jpgFor quite some time, I've been waiting for a chance to peek inside the new Resnick Pavilion currently under construction at the LA County Museum of Art. Last Friday, I was given a hard-hat tour of this one-story pavilion designed by Renzo Piano and containing 45,000 square feet of space for temporary exhibitions. Flooded with daylight, this vast space is even bigger than the huge Turbine Hall at London's Tate Modern, but it's definitely not as intimidating.

at100119c.jpgThe construction of the pavilion is about eighty percent complete, and the inaugural exhibition -- European fashion of the 18th and 19th Century -- is scheduled for this fall. I also had a tour of the Ahmanson Pavilion's new galleries for European Art, which are still under construction, with only part of the collection installed. But what I saw was a dramatic improvement over the previous installation, and after the opening of these new galleries, scheduled for this summer, LACMA will surely have another feather in its cap.

at100119e.jpgOn Saturday afternoon, the auditorium at the Getty Villa was jammed with art aficionados lucky enough to get tickets to hear former Getty officials –- two curators and one director –- who had firsthand experience dealing with Mr. Getty himself. It was fascinating to hear Stephen Garrett, initially hired as an architect and then promoted to become the museum's first director, talk about how difficult but also rewarding it was to work for the extremely demanding Mr. Getty.

at100119d.jpgWith great flair, Gillian Wilson, the museum's first curator of decorative arts, shared hilarious stories about sweet-talking the aging billionaire into spending serious money to acquire serious art. Along with Burton Fredericksen, the museum's first chief curator, the panelists poked gentle fun at the idiosyncrasies of Mr. Getty, but also made it clear how much respect they had for the man who generously left his enormous fortune to the museum with only one stipulation, and that is to disseminate art knowledge to as wide a public as possible.

Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth
On view at the Fowler Museum through May 30

Collector's Choice: J. Paul Getty and His Antiquities
On view at the Getty Villa through February 8

Banner image: Nick Cave installation at Art Basel Miami Beach 2009, courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Isaac Martinez Martinez